Merry Christmas, Here’s a 10-year Old Album You Missed

As a Christmas gift to you, I direct your attention to singer-songwriter Joel Alme’s “Waiting for the Bells,” a beautiful, nearly forgotten album from the very beginning of this decade that we’re about to close out. It’s not expressly a Christmas album, but its eleven tracks achieve that fine balance of celebration and melancholy that you hear in Darlene Love’s immortal “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” the best Christmas song ever recorded, so for that reason I think of it as holiday fare.

Like his fellow Swede Jens Lekman, Alme specializes in hooky pop music with a literate, brainy twist. But “Waiting for the Bells,” in my view, far exceeds anything that the more successful Lekman ever achieved. Its concise, thirty-two minute runtime features an unbroken string of impeccable song craft, delivered with Alme’s unique crooning vocal style, which balances searing rawness and classical crooning. You can get a taste of it in the video for “If You Got Somebody Waiting,” embedded above.

“Bells” was the musician’s second album, and he was able to secure grant money from the Swedish Arts Council for its production. The results are tastefully lavish string and brass arrangements, and a soaring, Phil Spector-esque quality that give it an irresistible immediacy. The fact that the music listening public largely did resist it, though, almost underscores its timelessness; it’s not quite an album from another time, but rather an album from no particular time. I dearly cherish it and listen to it almost continuously, and I think you may find yourself doing the same if you give it a chance. Happy holidays.